Vital papers proving Jewish identity held back by Egypt
A DELEGATION of Egyptian Jews and a representative of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) are heading for Cairo at the end of April to talk to the country’s Ministry of Culture about the onetime Jewish community’s cherished life cycle registers.
Scores of bound volumes, containing every detail of the births, marriages and deaths of Jews from Alexandria and Cairo, which date back to the middle of the 19th century, were once kept in the two main synagogues in each city. But, last year, without prior warning, government officials arrived at the synagogues and took away the registers, which are now stored in the Egyptian National Archives.
Rabbi Andrew Baker of the AJC said: “For many Egyptian Jews these are the only formal records which might otherwise be inscribed in civil records. And there are cases where they are very important in proving a person’s Jewish identity, for burial or for marriage.”
One of the leaders of the Nebe Daniel organisation, Yves Fedida, who is part of the forthcoming Cairo delegation, said that the scattered community of Egyptian Jews — some of whom depend on the information in the registers to prove their Jewish status — had been trying to persuade the government for more than 12 years to allow copies to be made of the registers.
At first, the government resisted, saying that there was a chance Jews outside Egypt would use the information for compensation claims. But this was dismissed by the Egyptian Jews as stonewalling, because the registers did not contain details of property ownership.
“Then came the Arab Spring and there was no hope of persuading anyone in the government when the Muslim Brotherhood were in charge,” Mr Fedida said.
Once President Abdel Fattah alSisi took power, however, there was new optimism, but so far there has been no response either to direct pleas or to a change.org petition.
Mr Fedida said: “We have lost our biggest treasure with the registers. They include, beside the precious records of births, marriages, and deaths, halachic rulings by Egyptian rabbis, who were said to be among the most pragmatic and least dogmatic of all those in the Mediterranean area.”
Most Egyptian Jews left the country in two waves, after 1948 and again after 1967. The community’s life-cycle registers